Friday, February 19, 2016

Diamond’s bill to stop voter intimidation gets support at public hearing

AUGUSTA — A bill to protect Mainers from potentially intimidating behavior at the polling place received support Monday from the Maine’s Secretary of State and from the organization representing municipal election wardens during a public hearing at the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.  

“This law is about ensuring that polling places can serve their most crucial function, which is to facilitate our democratic process,” said the bill’s sponsor Bill Diamond, a Democratic state senator from Windham who oversaw state elections for eight years as Secretary of State.“Those who want to video record at the polling place should be free to do so, as long as they don’t interfere with voters’ activities or needlessly intimidate them,” Sen. Diamond said. “This bill would set reasonable rules about what is and isn’t allowed.”

Last year, video recorders raised concerns when political activists pointed their cameras at voters as they signed citizen initiative petitions. Those activists focused on people signing two petitions, one that would raise minimum wage and another to expand background checks for gun purchases.  

Without any rules regarding video recording at the polls, election wardens were unable to address the situation. Sen. Diamond’s bill —LD 1574, “An Act To Protect Maine Voters from Intimidating Videotaping at the Polls” — would establish a 15-foot “minimum distance” between video recorders at the polls and the activity they were recording.  

Julie Flynn, Deputy Secretary of State, testified in favor of the bill. She described instances of video recorders behaving aggressively, including getting in voters faces and demanding they identify themselves. She called the bill a “reasonable regulation” to protect voters from intimidation.

“As long as the videotaping does not interfere with or intimidate people trying to vote or sign a petition, it can be accommodated at the voting place,” she said. “We believe the 15-foot distance provision addresses the issue of interference and intimidation.” bill also earned the support of the Maine Municipal Association, which represents election wardens, and wrote in its testimony that “the polling place should be entirely free of activities that cause voters to be embarrassed, feel uncomfortable or otherwise cause voter distress.”

No one spoke in opposition to the bill. The bill faces further action at the committee level in an upcoming work session.  

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